How this Chicago startup is bringing the suburban mall back to life

March 9, 2016

Credit cards at the ready, shopaholics. One Chicago-based company is gearing up to make offline shopping at malls all the more alluring.

, a customer loyalty program that partners with small businesses to offer cashback for purchases, wants to turn the siloed rewards program many consumers have come to know into an all-inclusive, mall-wide experience.

It’s a first-of-its-kind application of such a program, and it isn't hard to see its appeal.

Rather than racking up points only at specific stores, Spring is partnering with mall operators to introduce a loyalty program that works with all merchants in a single location. That means points from your $20 purchase at the food court get added to the $120 you spent on sneakers at the Gap.

It works like this: At participating malls, customers can swipe their credit or debit card at one of Spring Reward’s kiosks and enter an email address — an identical ask you’d hear at any store’s checkout counter. Then, users use that card to shop as usual until they hit a certain threshold, when cash rewards get triggered to be credited through the card.

“For consumers, it’s just such a great experience. You get to shop normally throughout the mall and get rewarded for that,” said Jason Pope, the company’s senior director of digital marketing.

The first mall they partnered with was Starwood Retail Partners’ Chicago Ridge Mall back in September, and the company spent the bulk of Q4 building out the program at nine other mall locations — mostly, Pope said, on the East coast with some of the nation’s largest mall operators.

The mall-wide program exists in concert with the company’s loyalty rewards program from small businesses. The idea, Pope said, is to build up familiarity in any given market through the mall program and then support that presence by expanding to the local business market.

And it’s not just a boon for shoppers. As online shopping, digital marketing, and adtech continue to innovate and disrupt, questions about the indomitability of brick-and-mortar shopping continue to swirl.

Spring helps make sense of some of that uncertainty. Offline, in-store commerce, he said, still accounts for more than 90 percent of retail sales. What’s more, consumers are smart. They’re researching online and buying offline (or vice versa) in a quest for an omnipresent shopping experience.

What Spring brings to the table is consumer insight: they know when a consumer swipes their card, and where, and every transaction at a mall thereafter. That data has the potential to unlock patterns retailers and advertisers only dream of.

“We understand how consumers are behaving,” he said.

In 2016, Pope said the company plans to introduce the program in 60 to 70 new malls nationwide — including partnerships with additional mall operators.

The company has built up a 35-strong team out of its River North headquarters and is in the midst of Series B fundraising efforts.

Picture via Spring Rewards. 

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